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leah kirk

The Department of the Interior announced in a news release Wednesday that the approved funding seeks to address “dire maintenance and repair needs that contribute to the $11.6 billion backlog currently facing the nation’s national parks.”

Almost $2.6 million will go toward the rehabilitation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Elkmont Wastewater Treatment Plant in Sevier County; it was built in 1959 to serve the Elkmont Developed Area. Another $35.2 million has been allotted for the North Shore Road Monetary Settlement on the North Carolina side of the park.

Other projects slated for repairs include the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C.; visitor access areas at Herring Cove Beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore; and stabilization of the Ellis Island Seawall at the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said. “Today’s announcement is another step toward eliminating the more than $11 billion in maintenance facing the National Park Service. It’s another step toward prioritizing infrastructure because it is an investment that bolsters local economies and gateway communities. And it is another step in prioritizing access for all Americans to our public lands.”

While about $650 million in national park maintenance work was completed in fiscal 2017, “aging facilities, high visitation and resource constraints” have kept the National Park System’s backlog at more than $11 billion for the past several years, the release states.

With a $215 million backlog of projects in the Smoky Mountains alone, Sen. Lamar Alexander, who worked alongside Zinke and introduced a bipartisan bill in March that could potentially eliminate the national park system’s entire maintenance backlog, stressed the positive impact the funding will have, especially on Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“This plan includes $35 million for settlement payments for the North Shore Road in the Smokies — this is a long overdue payment to the residents of Swain County based on a promise made 75 years ago,” said Alexander, a longtime supporter of providing a full-cash settlement for the never-built North Shore Road in North Carolina.

“Equally important, it should finally end the discussion about whether to build the North Shore Road, which is impractical today because of environmental concerns and enormous cost,” Alexander said in a statement. The spending plan also includes $2.5 million to rehabilitate the Elkmont Waste Water System, which is one of the park’s visitors’ favorite campground spots.”

Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe added that “a sustainable and modern wastewater treatment system” will help protect Little River, which receives treated effluent from the Elkmont plant, and also guarantees that tourists continue visiting the Smokies for many years to come.